Friday, August 31, 2012

Pinterest Noms Challenge: Carrot Zucchini Bars with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Most people have to "hide" zucchini in something sweet in order to get their families to eat it. Not me. I love zucchini. I have it on hand almost all year, or at least as long as I can find it. I can't wait to have proper planter boxes so that I can grow my own.

On the other hand, I do have to "hide" carrots. I dislike carrots very very much. It comes down to this: when I was four, I wanted very much to be Bugs Bunny. I asked my grandpa to get me carrots at the grocery store, found them in the lower bin of the refrigerator later that day, and mowed into one without washing or peeling or cooking. It was like the day I chugged cinnamon because no one ever called my cinnamon toast "cinnamon-SUGAR toast". So, I hide carrots.

I don't mind them in curry, stews, tiny bits on salad, carrot cake or even gingered like I had in a local Ethiopian restaurant. I ogle them on veggie platters at social gatherings and wish I could, just once, stomach them drizzled in Ranch dressing. Alas, I cannot. Dear carrots, you taste like ass and that is why I am blind. Scapegoats are awesome, right?

Anyhow, I found myself at the grocery store the other day, once again flirting up the carrots. So I broke down and bought some. And some zucchini. After two days in the referator, I remembered a luscious looking recipe for carrot zucchini bars with lemon cream cheese frosting from Real Mom Kitchen that I had pinned a few months back. Oh my, yes! YES! This is what carrots are made for!!

I learned quickly that shredding carrots by hand is lame, so I pulled out the food processor I have been swearing to use more often when sunbeams broke through my window and birds started chirping. This, my dear readers, is what that damn thing was meant to do.  It tore through four carrots and a large zucchini in a few seconds flat.

I added a bit of cinnamon and substituted apple sauce for the oil, which I read about here to make sure I could go 1:1. I did, and it was amazing. The overall process is simple: whisk together all of the wet ingredients plus the brown sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients. Fold the shredded carrots and zuchs into the wet mixture. Then fold the dry mix into the wet veggie mix. Spread into an ungreased 13x9x2 inch pan (and spread evenly because it didn't level out like I hoped it would).

It will look a little like rabbit vomit but don't despair. It will not taste like it. (Unless of course this *is* what rabbit vomit tastes like. In which case I may ask to be reincarnated as a bulimic bunny.)

Bake 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees and then let cool, in the pan, on a wire rack. When cooled completely, beat the crap outta the cream cheese, lemon zest and powdered sugar until it becomes light and fluffy. You can either spread the frosting on like a cake or cut into bars and pipe the frosting in neat little zig-zags. If you opt for the z's, I recommend halving the frosting recipe because I ended up with a lot left over. And four extra carrots. Here bunny, bunny...

I thought this was the perfect opportunity to practice piping and I'm glad Idid. In the beginning, they were schmoozy but by the twentieth bar, they were pretty pretty. This is thicker, denser, and a bit chewier than a cake so I am glad I opted for the bars. They were just the right size and easy to pick up and eat like a carrot.

Carrot Zucchini Bars

2 eggs
1/2 c applesauce
1/4 c honey
1 t vanilla
3/4 c brown sugar
1.5 c shredded carrots
1 c shredded zucchini
1.5 c flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t ground ginger
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t baking soda

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

8oz softened cream cheese
1 c powdered sugar
zest of one lemon

Makes ~20 1-inch bars. Store in the refrigerator. Enjoy!
Recipe adapted from Real Mom Kitchen, originally from Better Homes and Garden.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

My Kitchen Window Garden... and how to "regrow" things

     If you've not been living under a rock for the last six months, you know about Pinterest. Well, I think of myself as living under a rock as far as pop-culture is concerned (who is Nicki Min-whosiewhatsit anyway?) but even I know about Pinterest. So if you don't know about Pinterest perhaps you are living under something larger than a rock. A very very large rock. Anyway, this is how I learned about "regrowing" stubs from lettuce, green onion and the right way to root pits from avocados.    And that's what makes up my little kitchen window garden.

      Isn't the "Grow" sign awesome? I picked that bad boy up in the $2 clearance bin at Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago. It's the little things...

     I purchased the green onions (in the tall glass) from my local farmer's market close to two months ago. I've cut them down and "regrown" them three times. Each time, the shoots get thinner and less flavorful, but they grow nonetheless. This may be their last round, but we'll see.

     I've tried to root avocado pits a dozen or more times. Because I always forget about them, they dry up and die. The little bugger in the A&W mug is the very first one to actually sprout. In fact, I had moved him and his buddy (there was a second one in another mug) off of the dining table where they once lived to set the table for a family dinner and completely forgot about them. The mugs dried up completely and the roots were limp by the time I paid them some attention. I filled them up again and noticed this one had a sprout - looks like a spy glass from an old Hollywood submarine, pointing to the right. Since then its grown an inch, I swear. Apparently, they like water.

      Pinterest also educated me about "regrowing" lettuce. I used to rip apart my lettuce leaf by leaf, leaving almost nothing at the bottom because I'd just cut off the stiff ends and toss them out when I made sammiches. I saw a pin that showed someone had cut off the stump and tossed it in water and the leaves sprouted again. (I apologize I do not have the original pin, though I'm sure if you searched you could find it a thousand times.)

     I remembered that tidbit the last time I made salads and lopped off all the leaves in one slice. The stump went into a glass with a tiny amount of water, and in just 3 days I got this:
     Do you see those tiny little sprouts of leaves? Aren't they adorable? I'mma gonna eeeeaat them someday.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Whey Bread

Now that you've made ricotta style cheese from scratch, you probably have a bowl full of drained whey just taking up space in your refrigerator. Well don't fret dear reader, I've got just the thing for you to do with it!

As much as I'd like to take the credit for this genius idea, I cannot. I asked my dear friend Google what to do with all this whey that drained from my cheese, as there certainly had to be something to do with it other than just dump it down the drain (I usually water my plants with "waste"water, but since this has vinegar in it I didn't want to chance it). Clever Google introduced me to Terri's Table, who uses her whey to make bread! You can find her recipe here. Why Terri, I do believe I will try to make bread with my whey!

What you'll need:
3 cups warm whey or water*
1 tablespoon yeast (1 packet)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
7(ish) cups all-purpose flour

*I had kept my whey in the frig until I could figure out what to do with it, then warmed it in the microwave in 30 second increments until reached ~110 degrees. I had two cups of whey, so I added 1 cup water at about the same temperature.

I've tried to make bread before, which you can read about here and here, and while the essential process of all bread recipes is the same and super simple, the technique is what takes time to master. I think the key to making good bread is getting to know the texture of the dough - when its too sticky, too dry or up to Baby Bear's standards (Just Right!). The most essential ingredient is time. The last batch of bread I made was dense and rock hard because I got so excited to bake it that I forgot to let it rise a second time before I stuffed it in the oven. It would have made a great crouton for a giant's salad.

Terri says to dump everything but the flour into your bowl until the yeast gets foamy, which I did in my KitchenAid stand mixer. I then dumped in about 3 cups of flour and mixed on low speed with the paddle attachment. When it got to about pancake-batter-consistency, I switched to the dough hook, and, again on slow speed, mixed in the rest of the flour 1/4 cup at a time. I caught myself just staring into the mixer at one point, simply fascinated with the way the dough pulsed and moved around in the bowl as the dough hook spun it around. It was like watching the blob, or some other wild living thing breathe. I know, its silly to relate bread dough to mid-century B-flick horror creatures, but, alas, this is the way my mind works.

After the dough thickened a bit, I turned the speed up to about a 2, which is still pretty low, and added flour a bit at a time until it all balled up around the dough hook and was pretty tacky. I pulled the dough out of the mixer and dumped it onto my floured marble kneading board. I kneaded it, adding sprinkles of flour each time it got a little tacky or stuck to the board, until my triceps started to hurt (which I will not admit was only about four minutes). I rolled it into a nice ball, and then transferred it to a large glass bowl lightly sprayed with oil (I used canola oil spray), covered with a dishtowel and let rise for a little longer than an hour.

After it had risen, I dumped it once again on the floured kneading board and repeated the kneading process, sprinkling a little more flour only when it stuck to the board, for another few minutes. I used a dough scraper to cut it in half (only because I just bought one and needed to find a reason to use it, but a large knife would be equally fine), and rolled each half into oblong rolls. I sprayed two glass loaf dishes and tucked each half of the dough into its own bed dish. I sprayed one side of parchment paper large enough to cover both dishes and covered those babies up.

An hour later, they were were ready for baking. (And I realized that there are a few things in this life that I am completely incapable of: drawing a straight line, rolling my R's and cutting things in equal halves.) The loaf on the right is quite a bit larger than the one on the left, although not completely noticeable in the above photo.

I used a trick I have read about in recipes for making French bread (even though I've never actually made French bread). I put one rack on the very bottom of the oven and placed a baking dish half-full (half-empty?) of water and placed the other rack in the center of the oven with the two bread pans. The idea is that the water will create steam as it heats and will help the bread get that wonderful brown, crispy crust that you find on artisan breads. 

What you get, or what I get anyway, is one loaf twice as tall as the other because, ya know, I apparently cannot cut things in half.

This is the lightest, fluffiest, softest bread I have ever eaten - let alone anything I have ever made myself! I was so excited that I immediately sent a photo via text message to my sister proclaiming how my bread would put Sarah Lee to shame... and then I realized I was rubbing salt in her recent gluten-free wound... D'oh! Memory is also not one of my strong points, I guess. But bread - now I can do bread!!

I see absolutely nothing wrong with the disproportionate amount of carbs on that plate. Nothing at all. 

Since this recipe made so much, I froze one loaf. It freezes perfectly and keeps well in the refrigerator, too.  In the future, I think I may either halve the recipe from the onset or cut the original recipe into thirds so that I end up with three smaller loaves. I am positive that I will be making ricotta much more often - just so that I can make this whey bread :)  Enjoy!

*Don't forget: you can reuse the parchment paper over and over until its ready for the recycle bin!

*I apologize for the off-color photos. Husband had camera #1 at sea, camera #2 is broken and I am left with my fancy 2 megapixel dumb-phone and (which is amazing for all of us uber disappointed Picnik fans).

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ricotta: fail?

     I may not be a great housewife. I sleep in almost every day. I made myself a chore list, but I don’t stick to it. I get lazy about dishes. I don’t put away my laundry most times. But I like to think that being obsessed with grocery shopping and cooking make up for all that. (Which could also be why my husband has gained ten pounds since he came home six weeks ago.)

     I don’t think of myself as a food hoarder. My refrigerator is stocked with more beverages than food, and my pantry is only superficially faced one or two jars deep (thanks, grocery store job training, for facing all of my cans and jars label-forward and sorted by genre).

     A recipe hoarder, on the other hand.. Yes, definitely. Since I’ve been introduced to Pinterest, I have been collecting recipes like a … well, something that collects stuff. Pack rat maybe. A virtual pack rat. I have even branched out into multiple Boards to accommodate Sweets, Breakfasts and other recipe types.

     I seek out ways to make stuff the old, difficult way that takes hours upon hours instead of zapping frozen stuff in a microwave. Truth be told, most “old, difficult” ways are rather simple and when they produce quality food who cares how long it takes? I really *enjoy* cooking, and I especially love cooking “from scratch”.

     Needless to say that I was quite giddy when I saw Karen’s recipe for homemade ricotta cheese, and had to give it a try. I did a quick search for “homemade ricotta recipe” and found a dozen others similar to hers (most varying only in whether or not they used lemon juice or vinegar), so I went for it.
     I don’t drink regular milk (its rice or almond milk around our house), so I had to go out and buy milk for this occasion. Since I’ve not done this before, and was bound to fail, I just bought the store-brand 2% milk from our local Sprouts market. I usually opt for organic, especially where dairy is concerned, but figured I ought to be wallet conscious until I get the hang of this. And that, my dear friends, was the best decision ever.  Because, and this is the big disclaimer here, I'm still learning. Get it? I'M A NEWB. Learn from my mistakes!

    So as the recipe goes, simple as can be, you just plop four ingredients (4 cups milk, 1 cup heavy cream, 2 Tblsp lemon juice or vinegar, salt)  into a pot, heat, strain and eat! Um, nope.  Not in this kitchen! I heated the milk/cream/lemon/salt until little bubbles started to form and set it aside for quite a bit longer than recommended. When I started to scoop out the curds, there were few. In fact, I got only two almost-spoonfuls. 

     I thought perhaps I heated the milk too fast and so it didn’t have the opportunity to separate like it should. I decided to reheat the milk on lower heat this time. As soon as I put it back on the burner, my husband came in from the garage asking for a water refill and a spray bottle of vinegar for weed killing (being ever-so-conscious of not dragging his dirty boots into the kitchen because I just mopped the floor yesterday), and when I stepped out to hand it to him he called me out to see what he had done. Because I have the memory of a goldfish, I temporarily forgot all about my pot o’milk on the stove and wandered out into the driveway with him for a five minute chat. It wasn’t until I stepped back in from the garage that I saw my pot boiling over.  ..sigh..

      I dumped it in the sink and started over. Batch #2 was put into a large stock pot where I figured perhaps the shallow layer of milk may help it heat more evenly. But again, the only thing that separated was the skin that had formed over the milk. Dear google, please help!

     I sought out answers as to why my curds were not separating. I found a recipe different from all the others I had found in previous searches as well as a message board discussing various ways to make ricotta. Or, ricotta style cheese, as many of these same ricotta enthusiasts recognized that this method of making cheese is not "true" ricotta, but rather more similar to an Indian paneer. Regardless of what you call it, it is a divine soft cheese that surely inspired some of Botticelli's best.

    Some of these enthusiasts use whole milk, some use only cream, some use only whey from post-mozzarella production and some use citric acid rather than vinegar or lemon juice. Regardless of what they use, it seems the idea is to heat the milk first and THEN add the acid (ie vinegar or lemon juice or citric acid) to make it curdle. Then and only then can you separate the curds (Duh.. curdle = curds). This particular recipe suggested heating the milk over low heat for a couple of hours, stirring often. So that’s the route I chose to reheat the pot full of milk, cream, and lemon juice.

     I do not fault Karen's recipe for quick thirty minute ricotta. In fact, I am jealous that she is able to do it that way. Would my effort had been different if I tried whole milk or cream-top milk? I wonder if she gets better quality milk and cream, being from a town in Canada? I don't trust big-city-dairy even if they have a "California Cows are Happy!" campaign. I especially don't trust big-city-dairy because  they have a  "California Cows are Happy!" campaign.

     I heated the milk, cream and lemon juice (already mixed in the milk/cream from the previous attempt) slowly over low heat. When it did start to form a skin, I gently and very slowly scraped my silicone spatula across the bottom of the pan in a Z pattern (or an N, if you’re picky. Or a zigzag. Or a chevron. Or a Charlie Brown. Whatever creams your cheese.) to mix in the skin and keep from burning on the bottom. It took a while to get to the recommended 180/195/205 degrees (depending on which source you trust), but even at about 157 degrees I could already tell the difference – it was thicker than after simmering in previous attempts. I was feeling confident!

     At about 165 degrees, it started to look a little chunky, I assumed because it already has the lemon juice in it from the previous attempt. At 170 degrees it was quite a bit thicker. With another water refill and yard talk request, I was smart enough to set a 2 minute timer (AND take it with me) so that I could politely walk away from weed-pulling plans and go back inside to Charlie Brown the milk.

     At 175 degrees it started to get super chunky in the middle and at the long awaited 180 degrees it was like soupy porridge. Well, I’ve never made porridge so I don’t really know if that’s true. But I took it off of the heat anyway, gently chevronned in about ¼ teaspoon of vinegar (just in case) and let it sit for 20+ minutes.

     It looked worlds different than the first time, which in retrospect probably yielded only the skin (so I tossed it out). I started to scoop out the curds with a slotted spoon, found it to be too small (the curds were slopping over the sides) and switched to my large plastic slotted cooking spoon, which turned out to be too large (small curds were slipping through the slots) and finally settled on dumping the whole damn lot into the strainer. After a few minutes I found that the whey had drained and met up with the bottom of the strainer, thus no longer straining but rather steeping like soupy porridge tea, and had to come up with a plan G. I had to switch to another bowl that was taller and not as wide so that the strainer didn’t reach the bottom yet could easily rest on the rims.

     After ten more minutes or so of draining, I picked up the four corners of the cheesecloth (as had been recommended in some other recipes), cinched it off with a bag clip and hung it from a cabinet to drain. I,uh, don’t recommend this method because I was afraid the whole time that the door would pop open and the glasses I had put on top of the cheesecloth to weigh it down would come flying out and break in my cheese. Other folks recommended tying onto the faucet to drain in the sink (but I would only do this if you keep a bowl beneath it to catch the whey that drains from the cheese!). Thirty minutes later - voila! Cheese!

    In retrospect I should have let it drain longer than 30 minutes, but we were starving and jumped the gun to make dinner. When I opened the cheesecloth, I found the most wonderful soft cheese and it was perfect stuffed in chicken breast with spinach and garlic :)

Do not - I repeat: DO NOT throw out the whey that drains from your cheese! It can be used, and I'll tell you how in another post... dun-dun-dunnn! Until then, keep it refrigerated (or frozen) until you can use it!

I hope your first try is more fruitful than mine. Enjoy!

Update: I've made this a second time, heating the milk and cream alone before adding the lemon juice and it yielded the same problems. I had to reheat the milk/cream/lemon juice and add a smidge of vinegar. Perhaps my lemons are too old and don't have enough zing, or I used too little juice or heated too quickly or too slowly or... who knows. Fact is, I had to reheat slowly until it chunked in the pot and then let it drain a couple of hours. It still turned out dee-lish. If you have any tips or tricks I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

My life with infertility

Funny old men joke about a women's "biological clock ticking" but really its no laughing matter. There truly is an underlying yearning, more than just wanting something cute to dress up and call my own. I have a cat for that.

Suddenly, perhaps when I was told I possibly could not, I felt within myself and deep seeded desire to have children. I'd always wanted children, but this is different. Hindu philosophy teaches that all the world was created from desire. This may be deeper than desire. If I could turn myself inside out, metaphysically, this feeling would be the atom of all my energy.

I try not to think about it. It makes me far too emotional. But not thinking about it is not helping me. To not think about it is to not do anything about it, to not learn anything about it.

When I do work myself up to research infertility and its options online, I hang in there for only about 20-30 minutes before I break down. One page leads to another leads to another leads to yet another, and before I know I'm hopeless.

I begin to think that it's not fair. It's not fair, all those accidental pregnancies. All those kids born to those who neglect and otherwise abuse them. All those kids living in squalor and sinking beneath the weight of poverty and Welfare. And then I begin to feel angry and judgemental.

But I have to stop myself. Acknowledge what I'm feeling. Remind myself that what I'm feeling is not fair. It's not fair to compare myself to millions of other women with different biology, different circumstances and different goals in life. Remind myself that it is not my place to judge. Those women are not all junkies, nor abusers, nor unworthy of having a family.

We all know what it is feel love. To feel hope. And to feel the absence of them both.